Animal health trainees bring new hope to Nieu Bethesda

By Toni Younghusband

Nieu Bethesda’s Michaela Jacobs dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but that dream was shattered when her family’s financial circumstances forced her to leave school before matric. This week, Michaela’s dream was reignited when she graduated from a primary animal care training course run by a veterinary team from Somerset West.

EberVet Academy offered training to 7 residents of Nieu Bethesda’s Pienaarsig township, an impoverished community which has large numbers of dogs.

EberVet CVC’s Sr Hilda Mills in the field at Nieu Bethesda’s Pienaarsig

Mass Pet Sterilisation

In addition, Ebervet’s Community Veterinary Care division held a two-day mass pet sterilisation clinic at the Pienaarsig community hall at which 84 dogs and cats were spayed and neutered at no cost to their owners.

Michaela (20), who works as a cleaner at the Owl House Museum, and her fellow graduates, Elverno Adams, Leeford Babers, Isak Jacobs, Marchellino Williams, Marno Koopman and Naasley Swiers will now be able to assist animals in their own community, tending to wounds, applying parasite control, treating mange and identifying serious contagious diseases like distemper and parvo virus.

Seriously ill animals will then be referred to Camdeboo Sterilisation Initiative (CSI) representative Victoria Nance for further treatment. Nieu Bethesda does not have its own veterinary clinic; the closest is 50km away in Graaff Reinet.

An Aspiring Vet

“I did this course because I want to be able to help people to keep their pets healthy, and now I can use what I learned in my own community,” said Michaela. She said the opportunity had been exciting and inspiring. Michaela’s passion for veterinary work shone through at the spay clinic where she worked tirelessly to disinfect surgical wounds and applied her newfound knowledge to check each animal for parasite infestations, and signs of illness. “To be a vet will always be my dream but in the meantime, I will learn as much as I can and practice everything I have learned in my own community.”

Michaela removing an anaesthetic needle during her training at the spay clinic

Veterinary nurse Sr Hilda Mills, who led the training, said she had never met a group of people as keen and committed to help the animals in their community.

“I have met and worked with Karoo communities for over 25 years and have been astonished at the passion and dedication of these graduates. I do hope they continue to keep up the good work for the good of their town.”

Learning Animal Compassion

Leeford Babers (47) is keen to pass on his knowledge to children as he believes childhood is where compassion for animals begins. “This course has taught us so much; to understand that animals are like humans too – they feel pain, cold, hunger and thirst and they need love and shelter. I would like to teach that to children because if they understand that there will be less cruelty to animals,” he said.

Sr Mills, who has worked in animal welfare in small towns across the Karoo, said she’d never seen as many dogs per household as in Nieu Bethesda. “The town has a serious problem. Educating owners and sterilising as many animals as possible is the only way to keep these numbers under control.”

Hendriette Hector was thrilled that her dog Optel could be sterilised because it meant he would no longer wander or get into fights

Charlton Mirtner who has three dogs said most families kept dogs to hunt for food in the hills around the town. Rising unemployment forced people to look elsewhere as buying meat was beyond the average household income. Charlton was reluctant to sterilise his animals until Sr Mills and her new graduates explained that a sterilised dog was healthier and stronger and that his too-thin dogs would more easily gain weight.

Successful Nieu-Bethesda Mission

The Nieu Bethesda trainees continued their education at the two-day spay clinic offered by EberVet Community Veterinary Care (CVC) in conjunction with CSI at the local community hall. The 84 dogs and cats that were spayed and neutered were also drawn from nearby farms and all were vaccinated against rabies.

Said EberVet CVC veterinarian and owner of EberVet Academy, Dr Hilldidge Beer: “This outreach was tremendously fulfilling for us all as it not only helped to improve animals’ lives, but the lives and futures of community members too.

CSI’s Victoria Nance discussing a patient with EberVet’s Nicola Bryant

“We are so grateful to Victoria of CSI, to the students, and to the town for their compassion towards animals, for their commitment to making a difference and for their hospitality.

“The need in Nieu Bethesda is great and if we can raise the funds, we’d like to return to this beautiful town in Spring to sterilise more animals and aid the community as much as we can.”


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